Critics' choice?

By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  August 29, 2010

"If you are a literate human who lives on planet Earth, you probably have an opinion about Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections," Sam Anderson wrote in reviewing Freedom for New York magazine. In that one sentence, Anderson pinpoints the fraught relationship the mainstream book critic has with his audience. Will those of us who don't have an opinion about The Corrections hang our heads in shame? Will we rush out to the local library? Will we crumple our magazine in anger and toss it at the dental receptionist's head? Or will we sigh, relieved that we're not among the self-satisfied?

It's too bad, because the rest of Anderson's review does a brilliant job of explaining just how Franzen's indelible characters and penchant for "an old-fashioned love story" make a 500-page novel fun to read. "I picked Freedom up out of a sense of duty," he acknowledges, "then read it semi-addictively and finished it in just a few days."

But the upshot is that Freedom has been coopted by an embattled critic class who're busy foisting something from which they've sucked all the joy onto a public they don't seem to respect. No wonder people don't read novels.

JONATHAN FRANZEN
Boston Public Library, Copley Square, Boston | September 11 at 2 pm | Free | bpl.org
South Church, 292 State St, Portsmouth NH | September 10 @ 7 pm | Free | riverrunbookstore.com

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